Dancing in the streets might sound like a lot of fun, but it’s the kind of thing that can make police a little nervous.
Penn State and State College have seen their share of gatherings that have gotten out of hand, not the least of which was the 2011 riot after the firing of longtime head coach Joe Paterno at the height of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. That incident grew from congregating on campus to flipping over a news van.
But twice last week, Penn State students met in the streets with little incident. On Sept. 8, after the NCAA repealed the sanctions that had kept the Nittany Lions from competing in bowl games, students gathered at Old Main, then crossed campus to Beaver Stadium, finally ending up in Beaver Canyon for a little partying and crowd-surfing with friends.
Saturday night, after the football team pulled out a last-minute win on the road against Rutgers, students once again filled Beaver Canyon in celebration. State College police Lt. Mark Argiro estimated that about 1,000 students were in the streets.
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Police reported few incidents both nights. On Saturday, police cited one 19-year-old man for disorderly conduct after he climbed a light pole. Another disorderly conduct was given to a man who tried to whip up the crowd and wouldn’t leave when asked. A third man was written up for interfering with paramedics.
“In my personal and professional opinion, I hope every victory doesn’t end as a gathering in the Canyon,” said Argiro, who noted that every big celebration has the potential to take an ugly turn.
State College Police Chief Tom King was glad to see the revelers relatively controlled, but said there are still effects on the community even when the gatherings are peaceful.
“The student celebration after the Rutgers win was less expected given this early in the season and the opponent. Though nearly all who participated were celebrating and nondestructive, these types of large gatherings, even when nondestructive, require us to close roads and redirect traffic and it requires our PD to put most of our resources in the Canyon, leaving limited staffing to deal with all the other calls throughout the community,” he said.
But what happens next?
The upcoming game against the University of Massachusetts will be the first home game since the sanctions were rolled back. The schedule is filled with Big Ten matchups like Michigan on Oct. 11 and Michigan State on Nov. 29. The biggest — the planned white-out game with Ohio State on Oct. 25 — will have an 8 p.m. kickoff, meaning postgame partying after all-day tailgating won’t get going until 11 p.m.
“As for the Ohio State game, because it is an 8 p.m. game, we will be adding additional staffing and do extra planning just like we do for all PSU football night games. We will be meeting with (university police, state police) and other law enforcement agencies next week regarding our Ohio State policing plan,” King said.
Penn State is happy to see the student reaction.
“From an away-game perspective, and given that it was a team we have historically beat in the distant past, none of us expected the downtown rally — but we weren’t surprised,” Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. “Students are excited for this season and they acted responsibly in their celebration. This is always a great thing to see.”
Going forward, they agree that there is preparation to be done but aren’t overly worried.
“University police are always preparing for the unknown. It comes with the job,” Powers said. “There is potential during any crowd gathering for things to get out of hand, and police are prepared to respond to emergencies.”
Powers said university police have a good relationship with the State College Police Department, calling that relationship “a bonus” that many college towns don’t experience.
“We are grateful for their assistance on any occasion and for their understanding of student life and the spontaneous reaction to life’s events,” Powers said.
University Police Chief Tyrone Parham says he doesn’t anticipate problems with the celebrations going forward, but added that he hopes “this does not become a regular occurrence.”